At 10 o’clock this morning the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will release the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test results. These asses the knowledge and skills of over half a million 15-year-olds from 65 countries in maths, reading and science. While no single test can give a universal picture, the external assessment of our national performance is important. We are not expecting to do well.
The shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, is already getting his excuses in, claiming that our expected poor showing is down to the move towards free schools and academies. A fairly weak excuse considering the tests were run in 2012 when Michael Gove’s reforms had hardly even started. Mr Hunt should stop dithering and embrace the move towards a more robust education system which give our children a fighting chance in an increasingly competitive world.
Tony Blair (remember him?) claimed his three priorities were “education, education, education” a great sound-bite but a policy area in which Labour have failed spectacularly. Our falling place in the world tables matched a massive increase in the proportion of students getting top exam grades, whenever this was highlighted they claimed that their critics were “talking down hard working students”. The truth is that those students were being systematically lied to by a Labour government more focussed on its own electoral success than their futures.
This political arrogance and complacency borders on racism. It feels like Labour were saying “we don’t have to worry about these foreigners competing with our kids, were British!” and then going on to fail those very children by not equipping them with the basic skills to compete in the global economy. I do not believe for a second that other countries children are any more or less bright than ours, and we have massive inbuilt advantages which should enable us to compete with the world’s best. But we will only be able to do so with a serious and prolonged commitment to raising standards in British education.
As the CBI’s chief policy director, Katja Hall, makes clear “No issue matters more to the UK economy over the long term than the quality of our education system,”.